For the past 12 weeks, I’ve been talking about one of the best animated series ever made: Genndy Tartakovsky’s Samurai Jack. The animators made a show that was at once wholly a cartoon and yet entirely cinematic. I talked about all of Jack’s various adventures and wins and losses and how each one impacted the first season as a whole.
Today, we get to the last episode of that epic first season. The legend of “Samurai Jack” had already become huge by the time the 13th episode came out, so what better way to celebrate that than to have an episode entirely about that legend, and more important, how the kids see it?
For the finale of season one, “Aku’s Fairy Tales,” we take a break from following Jack himself. After all, he very nearly defeated Aku, the shape-shifting master of darkness, in the previous episode, “Jack and the Gangsters.” Dude finished a season’s worth of work. But this episode isn’t about Jack, it’s about the Myth of Samurai Jack. You don’t single-handedly oppose the Emperor of Evil and not have your legend spread around a bit, especially among the youth. Kids are very impressionable, and if they have a hero to idolize, they won’t necessarily be afraid all the time. This is true of both the world of the show and of the demographic watching the program.
The episode began with some kids playing Samurai Jack versus Aku. The kid playing Aku complained about being forced into the role because of his hair (it looks very square and pointy) and the others mentioned that he used to love being Aku. Yeah, before Samurai Jack showed up. There’s a funny joke where the kid pretending to be Jack is said to have the best Jack voice. That kid and Jack are both voiced by Phil LaMarr, and another kid shouts “Do your Jack voice, Phil.” It’s really funny. Anyway, Aku saw the kids playing and became aggravated that they would no longer be afraid of Aku, and in fact openly mock and ridicule him. The only people still afraid of him were the grown ups. Aku decided he needed to teach the kids to idolize Aku and not Jack, so he invited (more like forced) all the kids to a massive arena where he himself would tell stories.
The first of these stories was about a giant, planet-eating monster which came to Earth to destroy it and the lone warrior who rode a chariot pulled by eight tiny reindeer that fought and destroyed it. And that warrior? Aku, of course! Obviously false story is obviously false. He noticed afterward that none of the kids really seemed all that interested in the story, and so he decided to tell a different kind of fairy tale, one that was much simpler — “Little Red Riding Hood.” Or, at least the Aku version of it.
It’s basically the same story, except the Big Bad Wolf dressed and sounded exactly like Yogi Bear, for some reason, and at the end Red Riding Aku zapped, bashed, and uppercutted it into releasing grandma. This still didn’t impress the kids, one of whom stood up to say they’d rather hear a story about Samurai Jack. This, of course, angered Aku, who began the story of “Goldilocks and the Three Bears,” except the bears were super cute and nice and Goldilocks was a stupid old mean old smelly old samurai. The kids didn’t really buy that, so Aku told them the story of the Three Little Pigs, but instead of the Big Bad Wolf this time, it’s Jack who hacked into the house like The Shining.
The children continually didn’t buy it and Aku was forced to tell a billion different well known stories, like “Aladdin,” “The Pied Piper,” “Jack and the Beanstalk,” and “Puss and Boots,” except each time changing the ending to be about how the Samurai named Jack was instantly defeated. Getting aggravated, Aku finally told the story of how Samurai Jack was destroyed by a wizard named Aku, and then he zapped himself away in disgust. The kids aren’t dissuaded from their beliefs, though; they teamed up to tell a story about how Jack and Aku fought, incorporating all of the main things the series does, including a big castle, Jack having to fight a mutant of some sort, getting “battle damaged” in the process, having his hair messed up, and eventually facing off against Aku in a Spaghetti Western-esque showdown. The kids believed Jack would triumph and beat Aku and eventually get home to his own time. It wouldn’t be for three more seasons, of course, but they believed it.
This is a really fun episode specifically because it’s so meta. Other shows have done things like this, but few have been as successful. Having Aku, of all villains, actually worry about his low approval rating is very funny, and him trying to endear himself to little kids is even funnier. Ultimately, the show is about how one lone hero can stand up against the darkest of enemies, and for a show predominantly aimed at kids, that’s a pretty damn cool thing to do.
Well, friends, thanks for joining me on this journey into Samurai Jack season one. I might come back if demand is high for a look at season 2, but for now, I’m gonna go laugh about Little Red Aku Hood. Let me know in the comments what you thought of Samurai reJacked!